Happy Valley star James Norton says he's 'weirdly grateful' to bullies
‘I’m weirdly grateful to the boys who bullied me at school’: As Happy Valley reaches its thrilling climax, a startling confession from James Norton, who plays psychopath Tommy Lee Royce in the hit series
- Tommy Lee Royce will come face-to-face with his nemesis Catherine Cawood
- But it was being bullied himself that prompted him to turn to acting, says Norton
- The Happy Valley actor is now being tipped to become the next James Bond
Tonight, James Norton’s evil Happy Valley character Tommy Lee Royce will come face-to-face with his nemesis Catherine Cawood, in what promises to be the most dramatic television finale of the year.
Bully Royce – jailed for abduction and multiple murders before Happy Valley viewers saw him escape two weeks ago – has hinted he will kill the show’s protagonist, played by Sarah Lancashire.
For Norton, it was the BBC1 drama that set him on his journey to fame. He has even said that he ‘owes it everything’.
But it was being bullied himself which prompted him to turn to acting, after other students made his life a misery at the £40,000-a-year Ampleforth College – dubbed the Catholic Eton – where he boarded as a red-headed, freckly child.
This pushed him towards the school’s theatre department, where he became a mainstay.
James Norton’s evil Happy Valley character Tommy Lee Royce will come face-to-face with his nemesis Catherine Cawood, in what promises to be 2023’s most dramatic television finale
Bully Royce – jailed for abduction and murder before Happy Valley viewers saw him escape – has hinted he will kill the show’s protagonist, Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire
Norton has revealed being bullied himself prompted him to turn to acting, after other students made his life a misery at the £40,000-a-year Ampleforth College – dubbed the Catholic Eton – where he boarded as a red-headed, freckly child. Pictured: Norton in his younger years
‘I had a complicated time at school. I didn’t have the greatest time,’ Norton admits. ‘It wasn’t helped by the fact that I was bullied. I was quite badly bullied for five years and I was also at boarding school so I couldn’t leave.
‘But I owe that school a lot. I loved theatre, I made some good friends. There’s a magic to the place.
‘It’s intoxicating to be part of something so big, with that atmosphere of grandeur, when you’re in such a period of flux.’
The abuse, he says, left him ‘hyper aware socially’. ‘Possibly to a fault,’ he adds. ‘I constantly critique how I’m affecting people and how I’m being judged.’
Norton’s bullying experiences were so bad that he sought psychological help to get through it.
He says: ‘With the help of a therapist, in a weird, perverse way I’m kind of grateful for it.
‘I’ve had a great therapist for the last four years, and it’s not from a place of drama. I’m luckily not suffering from depression or anything like that but it’s been really, really helpful in understanding what [happened to me at school].’
While his character Royce’s backstory involves a drug-addicted mother and being jailed for drug-related offences, Norton had a more privileged background.
Norton is now being tipped to become the next James Bond and the chatter within the film industry is that his role on Happy Valley will have boosted his chances
The son of a teachers Lavinia and Hugh Norton, he was born in Lambeth, South London, before enjoying an idyllic childhood in the market town of Malton, north Yorkshire.
He later went to Cambridge University where he was awarded a first in Theology.
After attending RADA, in 2013 he was cast in Happy Valley. Despite being his breakout role, it came with downsides – he was no longer seen in the acting world as ‘posh’.
‘Britain is obsessed with class,’ he says, ‘and our industry is obsessed with pigeonholes. Having been to Cambridge and speaking with a specific accent I did run that risk.
‘When Happy Valley came out I had people ringing my agent and saying, “We have this part but it’s posh, I’m not sure James is right for it.” My agent was punching the air, it’s a perfect part, a hand of aces, and you don’t get many of those throughout your career.’
Indeed he was right. Next came Grantchester, then McMafia – and then Hollywood in Little Women, alongside Florence Pugh.
Norton is now being tipped to become the next James Bond and the chatter within the film industry is that his role on Happy Valley will have boosted his chances.
He remains tight-lipped, telling Vera (Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight magazine): ‘It’s flattering to be in the conversation.’
With such success, of course, come girlfriends. First up there was Jessie Buckley – star of BBC drama War And Peace – before their split in 2017.
She was left devastated at their parting, saying: ‘We have broken up, yes. It was acrimonious.
‘He is a great man and we are great friends. That’s it. How diplomatic can I sound?’
Heart-throb Norton, 37, went on to date actress and model Imogen Poots, 33 – alumni of Latymer school in Hammersmith, West London – whom he met in 2017 when they starred together in play Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse.
The couple have a flat in Peckham, South-East London, and are currently renovating a home in East London. They are about to marry after Norton got down on one knee last February.
Norton though, is busy. He has just started filming the Bob Marley biopic opposite Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays the reggae legend and has just finished Men Of Divorce alongside Rosanna Arquette.
He admits that filming Happy Valley has been enormously ‘special’ for him and reveals that even his friends on the other side of the Atlantic have become enthralled with the show.
‘There’s a fascination with it, it’s a brilliant police procedural but at its heart it’s about family. What translates across the world is that everyone knows what it is to have messed-up families that you can’t tear yourself away from.
‘It’s cool. I got a DM [social-media message] from Amy Schumer, and Bob Dylan loves the show too.’
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